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The Secret to College Success? A Growth Mindset

As you head off to college, or any other new adventure, you are likely to encounter new challenges, such as needing to adjust to having more control of your schedule or taking new or harder classes than you did in high school. You might be able to predict some of these challenges in advance and take steps to prepare for them, but there will likely be others that you won’t see coming until you are in their midst. How well you navigate these challenges can be greatly affected by your mindset as you approach them. Students who approach life with a growth mindset tend to be more successful in the long run than those with a fixed mindset. 

What is a Growth Mindset?

One way to think about what kind of mindset you have is to consider how you respond when you make a mistake or run into something you don’t know how to do. If someone has a fixed mindset they tend to see concepts and skills as things that you either get, or you don’t. For someone with a fixed mindset, making a mistake or struggling with something can lead to thoughts like “I’m bad at this…what’s the point in even trying?” Someone with a growth mindset might respond to the same mistake or struggle with “Ok, this is an area I need to work on. What could I do to improve?” For someone with a growth mindset, challenges become areas where they can learn and grow. 

It is common for people to have different mindsets about different areas of their lives. Some students recognize the value of listening to their coach and doing strengthening exercises that will help them improve on the field but shut down if they struggle in the classroom. Others are always ready to ask for help and to find ways to work through academic challenges but quickly gave up on learning an instrument because it was “too hard” and they were “bad at it” in their initial attempts. Sometimes students approach learning new things with a growth mindset but are convinced that they are inherently disorganized or will always procrastinate on projects. Learning to recognize when you are responding to something with a fixed mindset can be an important first step in overcoming challenges.

Check out our quick quiz to get a sense of whether you currently lean more toward a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.

It’s important to be aware that you can have a fixed mindset around something you are good at as well. If, say, math has always come easily to someone, they can internalize the idea “I am good at math.” Then, when they eventually reach a math concept that doesn’t come easily, it can lead to them questioning that self belief and wondering if they actually aren’t good at math after all. Discovering that a familiar subject is harder at the college level doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for it, it just means that you will need to work on building your growth mindset in that area. You might have to work harder to learn the material, but when it does click it can be that much more rewarding! 

Working on your growth mindset doesn’t mean that you will magically be able to do everything on your own. Part of having a growth mindset is being willing to seek out help when you need it.

Finding Resources

The exact resources that are available will depend on your situation, but there are some common good starting places:

  • Use the official resources provided by your school. This could mean actually going to office hours for your professors, bringing questions to any assigned TA or tutor for your class, or checking out the school’s writing center. If you aren’t sure what is available, check your class syllabus or course page. College professors often include information about scheduled office hours and resources you can use to find additional help. 
  • Work with your friends and classmates. Unless a class has specifically told you that you need to do the work alone, working through the material with others who are also learning it can be very effective. 
  • Check out Google or YouTube. These days you can find tutorials and lessons for almost anything on the internet and sometimes seeing something explained in a slightly different way can make all of the difference. 
  • Seek professional help and enroll in tutoring, either on a specific academic subject or executive functioning.

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